A lot can change just a few days into the season. Like the 4-0 Orioles suddenly becoming World Series favorites! But surprising starts, unforeseen injuries and unexpected roster-makers will mess with even the best laid plans. Let’s hit on all three below, in the form of AL outfielders.
David Murphy, Rangers
It’s time to get on board with the Murph. He started 2011 with a pinch-hit two-run double centerfielderoff Daniel Bard and a solo jack off Clay Buchholz, showing that his already-hot bat can catch up to top-notch gas. Even if he doesn’t wrest starting duties from Julio Borbon—despite some early criticism of his D, expect the speedy to keep the gig—Murphy will still, as the kids say, do what he do. The former first-rounder won’t wow, but he may just be the most consistent, most undervalued—heck, the most consistently undervalued—non-starting outfielder in baseball. And there is, indeed, value in consistency. Since 2008, he’s put up OPSs* of .786, .785 and .806, hit 28, 24 and 26 doubles, tallied 15, 17 and 12 homers and scored 64, 54 and 51 runs, all respectively. He struggles some against lefties (career .692 OPS), but the Rangers deploy him strategically, with just about one-third of his career plate apps coming vs. southpaws, thus limiting the damage to his rate stats (and yours). There’s also the injury-proneness of Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, who have topped 140 games played just once between them, so Murph is a safe bet to get more PT than your typical backup. In fact, he’s notched 415, 432 and 419 at-bats the past three seasons. What was that about consistency?
*What, exactly, is the plural of OPS?
Felix Pie, Orioles
You’ll forgive me if I often confuse Pie with Corey Patterson. After all, both were big-time Cubs outfield prospects rushed to the bigs so Chicago could put their Raw Toolsy Goodness™ to use, only to fail to meet expectations and get shipped off to Baltimore. Actually, Patterson made his obligatory annual reappearance last year as an Oriole, in part because Pie had issues. (Also, both last names? Start with the letter “P”!) For all his faults—and there were plenty—Patterson actually revived his career in his first go-round as an Oriole in 2006, thanks in large part to a career-best 45 swipes. Pie doesn’t have that weapon in his arsenal, but he does have three things working in his favor: 1) At 26, there’s still time for him to “get it,” which is what made him a popular sleeper candidate a year ago, until he strained his latissimus dorsi* and missed almost three months, thus torpedoing his fantasy momentum; 2) his defense will keep him in the mix because Buck Showalter won’t want to trust Luke Scott in left more than he has to, especially if the O’s continue to prove they’re good enough to be competitive in most games; and 3) Scott is currently hampered by a groin injury, which could have something to do with the fact that he’s not used to playing the field regularly (since the start of 2009: 42 outfield games) and almost definitely will make him even more of a liability with the leather once he’s back out there. Unlike Murphy, Pie doesn’t need to be owned in anything shallower than AL-only or 14-team mixed leagues, but he has an opportunity to break the 300-AB barrier for the first time in his career, making double digits in both homers and steals possible. That should be enough to prevent Patterson from resurfacing in Baltimore again this year.
*That would be a sweet band name, no?
Jarrod Dyson, Royals
Melky Cabrera sure has a fun first name.* And gee, he probably tries real hard. But he was arguably the worst player in baseball last year, and he has somehow tricked the Yankees, Braves and now Royals into giving him a starting job despite owning the fifth-worst ISO (.113) among starting outfielders since 2006. So basically, KC’s choice is: Give regular time to a guy with no real worth and absolutely no upside, or give some of that time to, well, anyone else. There’s obviously no guarantee that Ned Yost & Co. will make the right choice on this, but if the first few games are any indication, there at least appears to be a chance that speed monger Dyson, who wasn’t even expected to break camp with the team, will get some run. (See what I did there?) And if there’s one thing the 26-year-old can do, it’s run: In 305 minor-league games, Dyson has thieved 131 bags, so whenever he gets on base, he’s got the evergreen light. Just this past weekend, he stole two bases (second and third, consecutively) as a late-game pinch-runner. He’s strictly a speed play (only two career homers between majors and minors), and Lorenzo Cain, the better all-around CF prospect, is looming, so don’t expect him to take the job and…run…with…it…but Dyson could be the type of streaky steal guy who nabs five bases in a week, even if he only gets 10 ABs. Best course of action is to monitor how the Royals play it, and if Dyson starts a couple games in a row—pounce. And fast.
*Every time I say it out loud, I think of this scene from A League Of Their Own.